Essential Fantastic Four Volume 4 TPB Paperback – Jun 29 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
Nonetheless, this is still top-notch superhero melodrama in the Mighty Marvel Manner, and does feature the game-changing birth of Franklin, son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. Time had indeed started to pass in superhero land, for all the good and ill that would later prove to bring. Highest recommendation.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The reproduction is some of the best in the Essential series. There was one error in the production of the book, a variant cover reproduced on the last page of the book is the same as the cover printed at the beginning of the book. The cover design doesn't exactly work either, and there is too much blank space on the front cover, but it is nice to see Kirby artwork on the front cover of his own material, unlike several of the other Essentials. These are minor quibbles, and I don't imagine they'll affect tne enjoyability of the book at all.
Comic book superheroes having children was a rather novel idea, but then having them get married was a rather radical notion (it took decades for Superman and Lois Lane to finally get hitched). But during the Silver Age of comic books the big idea at Marvel was to try and be (relatively speaking) more realistic. Reed Richards and Sue Storm loved each other, so instead of having years of lovers' quarrels like Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyke, it made sense for them to get married, and once they got married having a kid would be the next logical step. Of course as soon as Sue gets pregnant she is not going to go out fighting villains (although I swear Kirby never draws her as clearly being pregnant (in issue #79 Sue wears a long dressing gown), so most of these issues feature Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, and the Human Torch going it alone, although Wyatt Wingfoot shows up for a couple of issues. Actually, Crystal does not put on an FF uniform until issue #81, after the baby is born, and becomes an "official" member of the group by the end of the story.
The Fantastic Four tangle with the Sentry (#64) and then the Ronan the Public Accuser (#65) in a Kree story line, followed by Alicia unlocking "the mystery of the year" and the first appearance of Him (#66-67), who later becomes Warlock years later. Annual #5 features the Inhumans and the Plant Panther fighting alongside the FF against the Psycho-Man, ending with "A most surprising announcement from Mr. Fantastic," along "posters" of the Inhumans and the FF by Kirby followed by a bonus story with the Silver Surfer tangling with Quasimodo. The Mad Thinker turns the Thing against the others in a four-issue story arc that also involves the Thinker's killer android (#68-71). At that point Reed announces he and Sue are "cutting out," because he is not going to jeopardize his wife's life, especially now that she is going to have a baby. However the Silver Surfer shows up (#72) and then following up on the events in "Daredevil" where Dr. Doom switched places with ol' hornhead, we end up with the three male members of the FF fighting Daredevil, Thor and Spider-man because they think DD is still Doom (#73. This is as close as their arch-nemesis gets to the FF in this volume, which is the first in the series not to have a Dr. Doom story in it.
What we get instead is another visit from Galactus (#74), who wants to end the exile of the Silver Surfer because the hunger of ages gnaws within him. Reed's solution is to find the worlds within worlds in the microverse (#75), which only gets the boys stranded in Sub-Atomica (#76) and then rematched against the Psycho-Man (#77), all while the tummy of Galactus rumbles on and on. Then we have yet another example of Reed coming up with a way to turn the Thing back into Ben Grimm (#78), which works right before the Wizard attacks. Of course Ben realizes his friends are at risk and wants to be able to turn back to the Thing when the group needs him, but Reed warns Ben can change back to the Thing just one more time, but if he does he can never become Ben Grimm again, so you know exactly what happens in issue #79. Wyatt Wingfoot shows up for a multi-part story involving the Living Totem (#80), and then we have Annual #6, "Let There Be Life." Sue goes into labor and Reed needs to get anti-matter from the Negative Zone to save mother and child. The FF can face Annihilus, but they wimp out at the hospital and stick to the waiting room. Crystal joins the boys against the Wizard (#81), who then travel to the Hidden Land to help Black Bolt put down a rebellion by Maximus the Mad (#82-83). As an added treat you will find several pages of Jack Kirby's original pencils from some of the issues.
Overall it is not that there are any bad stories in the bunch, but rather that you really do not have any first-rate classic stories in the "Essential Fantastic Four, Volume 4." Galactus and the Silver Surfer have been around before, the Thing has changed back to Ben Grimm before, and Maximus is always trying to dethrone Black Bolt. So I do not think I can round up on this collection and make it seem like it is equal to what we had seen in the previous couple of volumes when the FF were at their zenith. That being said, you have to at least go through Volume 5 of these black-and-white reprints you have to at least get to the end of the road for Jack "King" Kirby, who left the comic book he co-created after drawing the first 102 issues and half dozen annuals of what the cover of each issue insists is the "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"
I can't help but feel that something in Jack Kirby died when he left the FF behind. Nothing before or ever since comes close to what he accomplished with Stan in the FF. The chemistry, the love-hate relationship between the two men - whatever went on - translated into a passion that remains one of the unparalleled artistic achievements in comicdom. For all the soap operatics and cornball cracks which appear in the series, each page is a fresh experience. No two frames look alike - and with thousands of pages of art - the villains, the drama, and the humour defined a comic generation.
I only wish this collection was available in full colour - and an affordable price! But the fact that it grabs you even in black and white is testimony to its punch.
It starts with page one of the first issue within (from Issue 64, "The Sentry Sinister"). A nice sized splash page with Ben Grimm and Sue and Reed Richards (or respectively, The Thing, The Invisible Girl and Mr. Fantastic). It is the superhero equivalent of a quiet domestic scene, with Ben cleaning up some debris from a previous battle, but it is done well: Reed is his usual officious self, Sue is irritated at being ignored and Ben - holding up this wonderful piece of sci-fi machinery that Jack Kirby could depict so well - is making a wise crack. It looks great, it reads great, and so far, nothing has even happened yet!
Soon enough, the three will be joined by Johnny "Human Torch" Storm and be off on adventures against a Kree Sentry and Ronan the Accuser. And that's just the beginning of the big league villains they confront in this volume: there's also Psycho Man, Annihilus, Galactus, Maximus, the Mad Thinker and the Wizard (only Dr. Doom seems to be missing from this set). All this, plus Sue's pregnant (I believe this was a superhero comic book first, just like the Reed/Sue marriage earlier) and by the end of the volume will have a boy.
Sue's pregnancy makes many of these issues The Fantastic Three, as she stays behind, but by the end of this book, Crystal, Johnny's Inhuman girlfriend will become Sue's temporary replacement.
Not all Lee/Kirby works are equally good, but their run on the FF is true classic comic book material. It may not be the as sophisticated as today's writing or the most politically correct (especially as far as the roles of women), but it is delightfully entertaining, and a can't-miss for comic book fans.
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